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Zimbabwe: Top-8 stereotypes

08.08.2018
When I was preparing for my trip to Zimbabwe, of course I wanted to consider all potential issues and enjoy its best. First thing I did - I googled! Weird as it might seem, but the first page search results didn't make me feel optimistic as all info was mostly negatively colored. But when you come to the country, you get absolutely different experience! Hopefully I can break few stereotypes:

1.Zimbabwe is overwhelmed with the poverty and starving people. It is not true. Average salary is ZWD$300-500 and it is quite enough for a decent life. But of course, you will see no luxury and Porsche showrooms.  Relating earnings I would like to note, the foreign currency shortage and the high premiums on the Bond Note to the USD$ are a high threat to individual and business earnings. Citizens and investors hope that the post-election period will bring the much needed positive business environment.

2. Crazy hyperinflation with heaps of useless bills! Not anymore. The multi-currency regime was introduced in 2009. Zimbabwe uses a basket of currencies that includes the South African rand, Botswana pula, British pound and United States dollar. United States dollars (USD) are accepted everywhere with the exchange rate to Zimbabwe dollars (ZWD) as 1:1.
If you manage to get local friends they can exchange USD for you in official exchangers with a better rate! Bank cards are widely accepted in nearly everywhere but the challenge is with online transactions and small shops, cafes. Various banks announced that any cross-border use of their VISA or MASTERCARD branded cards in Zimbabwe now requires prior arrangement and approval by the bank and needs to be pre-financed using USD$.
Many locals enjoy mobile payment solutions. The country’s three mobile money platforms — EcoCash, Telecash and OneMoney — operated by Econet, Telecel and NetOne (100% Government of Zimbabwe), respectively, only do transactions within their own networks.
I would recommend to bring mostly cash once you decide to travel to Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe dollars are available in 2 and 5 dollar bills. The RBZ also introduced the 1 cent, 5 cents, 10 cents , 25 cents , 50 cents and $1 bond coins.

3.Water is a luxury. It is not true as water is affordable. Average monthly bill is $20. If you want to maintain a garden or grow vegetables for sale, it’s possible to bore your own water well.
In the recent years due to unavailability or unreliability of municipality water in Zimbabwe, there has been an upsurge in the sale of bulk water extracted from boreholes in most of Harare’s residential areas. Large numbers of water delivery trucks can be seen busy delivering water to various households while some large companies had also resorted to buying water from these water dealers to meet their production requirements. According to the Water Act, all ground water belongs to the government and anyone who extracts water is liable to pay borehole levies and fees and get an approval from the water authority – Zinwa.

The residents of Mabvuku, Tafara, Hatcliffe, Epworth and Chitungwiza and most of the affluent northern suburbs have drilled or sunk thousands of boreholes and deep wells in the last decade. Most of these were a response to the erratic water supplies to residents by the local authorities. Citizens have defied the call to pay for boreholes, but for the avoidance of doubt, all boreholes should be registered with Zinwa and requisite levies paid annually to the authority and the respective sub-catchment councils. Not everyone can afford to pay for the levies, but water is affordable for daily needs if you just buy it.

4.Food is very cheap in Zimbabwe. Nope!

Retail prices, ZWD:

On the face of it, the prices at the major retail shops in Harare aren’t bad – if you’re comparing them with other regional retail shops in Zambia and South Africa. But of course, not everything is bright. Like most of their African neighbours, people in Zimbabwe spend 80 per cent of their income on food. But again it is the same expenditures ratio as in many other countries in the world. So the actual picture is not absolutely pessimistic.
Many urban residents rely heavily on staples grown by their rural relatives – corn, kale and whatever meat they can spare – and fill up on sadza – a traditional Zimbabwe porridge made from white maize.
If you don’t want traditional food, you can always find huge commercials directing you to KFC locations! And of course Coca-Cola brands are easily available in Zimbabwe.

5.Full of insects and mosquitoes. Not true, it’s a bit dry for mosquitoes. But of course you encounter spiders (Be ready they can be very big and found in a very unexpected places! They are hairy cute ones!) and large colorful butterflies!

6. Bad public transportation. Well, of course it’s not NYC. But I’ve seen many minibuses packed with local people on the roads everywhere in Harare and Bulawayo. City fare is $0.50. Most long-distance bus operators in Zimbabwe have both local (“chicken buses” for locals) and luxury coaches (European standard comfort). The express or ‘luxury’ buses operate according to their public schedule. Intercape Pathfinder bus service has a daily service linking Harare to Bulawayo and Bravo Plies as well as the Harare–Bulawayo–Vic Falls route. For crossborder buses – Intercape and Greyhound, they operates the routes: Harare to Johannesburg and Bulawayo to Johannesburg.
There’s also an avia connection (FastJet) between the major destinations in Zimbabwe. Fares are not as much affordable as a bus and it’s not a low cost airline, but locals do use it.
No Uber! Taxi drivers sometimes get lost as no one is using navigation! But you can travel in class even in Zimbabwe! Over the years there was a plenty of airport transfer companies and car hire companies. Some started as taxi companies. Most companies pride themselves with years of the best industry practice in terms of both capacity and international reputation. They operate the most finest and luxurious fleets in the world. Notable examples are Hilton Transfers, LED travel tours and car hire, Mini Taxis, Sherwoodhire Car Rentals and Taxi, and many more others.
Best quality roads are from/to the airports. Asphalt roads in rural areas mostly do not exist.
Every Zimbabwean driver has a horror story to tell about the country’s pothole-ridden roads and highways. The road network suffered from years of neglect and deterioration, some potholes have developed into craters, especially during the rainy season. That is the reason you can enjoy watching so many Nissan, Toyota, Land Rover 4×4 powerful jeeps and trucks on the roads as well as a loud swearing when someone’s car ploughed into a deep pothole. Feels like a daily safari!

7. Crime is everywhere and it’s not safe. It’s not true. People are just super sweet, incredibly friendly, respectful, and helpful! In rural areas they would be very curious about you but still in a positive way.
But. Recently due to the unstable political conditions, citizens are advised against walking alone in the main city centers of Harare or Bulawayo during the night hours. Overall crime increased 10-20% across most sectors in 2017. The thirst for genuine U.S. Dollars that can be exported or exchanged on the international markets is the motivation behind the constant criminal threat of targets of opportunity to include robberies, petty theft, vehicle burglaries, home invasions, and smash-and-grab vehicle attacks at intersections at night (usually at intersections with inoperable traffic lights).

8. Contagious infections are just around the corner. Don’t get scared! There are records of outbreaks of cholera and typhoid, but mostly there’s a very safe environment in spite of all horror stories in the media! They keep as high sanitary standards as possible. They teach kids hygiene basics in schools and they even promote HPV vaccination for little girls. HIV level is high though among the grown-up population.

My biggest impression of Zimbabwe is related to its amazing people. Humble, hard working, shining with their kind hearts and friendly smiles! I really hope that the Harmonized Elections 2018 can affect their future and lifestyle in the most positive way, so they would have a happy life in their own country! I would definitely recommend this amazing place as a great vacation destination. And don’t miss out Victoria waterfalls!

Yanina V. Noel, AFRIC Observer

*Special thanks go to Frank Kundeya for helping with materials for this article

 

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